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Greg Rubell's journey to a healthy lifestyle started with a 20-second run

Greg Rubell's journey to a healthy lifestyle started with a 20-second run
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Healthy Living Awards 2010

BY BOB ARMSTRONG
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2010

The evening sun is glistening on the water of Muir Lake at Fort Whyte Alive as Greg Rubell is doing what he loves best: helping people get active in the fresh Manitoba air.

It's a "test paddle" night for people thinking of buying a canoe or kayak from Mountain Equipment Co-Op. Rubell, a paddling and cross-country skiing expert at the Portage Avenue store, is explaining to a half-dozen Manitobans the pros and cons of the boats he's brought with him.

A certified kayaking instructor, Rubell is also giving out valuable tips on getting in and out safely, paddling technique and balance.

It's that commitment to helping others get the most out of healthy, active lives that earned the 57-year-old runner, hiker, paddler and skier a Healthy Living Award from the Reh-Fit Centre this spring.

"I just like the look on people's faces - being able to do something that they didn't think was possible. It's nice to see other people change their lifestyle."

As a healthy living mentor, Rubell enjoys helping people find the activity that's right for them and watching them attain their fitness goals. Some of the people he has taught have gone on to run marathons. Others just want to improve their fitness, keep up with their kids, or enjoy their favourite activities without feeling sore.

If you enjoy hiking or skiing, "You can do it (without otherwise exercising), but you won't enjoy it as much if you aren't fit. Exercise makes the experience better."

He doesn't push any specific exercise agenda in the classes he leads or on testpaddle nights.

Some customers are looking for canoes they can take on wilderness expeditions. Others just want to go for a fun paddle at their cottage. To him, whatever gets you out and moving is a good thing.

Rubell wasn't always such an evangelist for healthy living.

In his 20s, he smoked and seldom exercised. He dropped the smoking habit first, but it wasn't until his mid-30s that he began running. "I wasn't happy with not being able to walk up a set of stairs comfortably," he says, adding that his wife, Linda, also played a big role in motivating him to get fit.

He joined a running class that had as its goal preparing participants to do a 30-minute run by the end of six weeks. It's hard to imagine, given that Rubell has since run the rugged 63-kilometre Mantario Hiking Trail in 13.5 hours, but that 30-minute run was a daunting goal at the time.

"I thought that people who could run for a half an hour were gods," he recalls. "I started out by running for 20 seconds, then walking for 40 seconds."

He was a fast enough learner that he went on to teach the Running Room's Learn to Run classes and lead weighttraining sessions for runners at the YMCA. He's also a member of the Reh-Fit Running Club, meeting every Thursday night to train.

Depending on whether or not he's training for a long-distance run, Rubell's weekly exercise schedule includes three weight-training sessions and three runs - fast, short-distance runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and a long, slow distance run on the weekend. In the winter, crosscountry skiing may take the place of a run.

Some of his personal exercise highlights include the 50-km Canadian and American Birkebeiner cross-country ski races and a 50-km ultramarathon on the Superior Trail south of Thunder Bay. At 57, he doesn't do quite as many distance runs now, but he plans to run the Manitoba Marathon again on his 60th birthday.

He also became a Canadian Association of Nordic Ski Instructors (CANSI) certified cross-country ski instructor - in large part so he could help to introduce friends to the sport.

Surprisingly, for a man who loves being on the water, swimming is just about the only exercise Rubell doesn't do. Rubell has found ways to fit activity into all aspects of life.

He often commutes the 15 km from his Charleswood home to his work by bike, and he and Linda have made activity a big part of their lives together - the couple recently celebrated their 25th anniversary by biking around the Napa Valley in California.

Linda is also dedicated to fitness. She will participate this year for the seventh time in the 1,000-mile Cycle of Hope bike ride for Habitat for Humanity.

A part-time passion for healthy living became a fulltime thing when MEC opened its Winnipeg location in 2002. Rubell, at the time working as a purchasing manager for another business, was ripe for a career change, even if it did mean a drop in income.

"I asked my wife and she said she'd rather take the pay cut and have me around for another 20 years."

Since then, he has been "the token old guy" among the largely young staff at MEC, helping customers select outdoor gear in order to enjoy healthy activity in the fresh air.

A long-time paddler, Rubell also got his kayak instructor certification through his work with MEC. As well, two years ago he participated in a special program in which staff members from across the country are selected to go on a wilderness adventure. Rubell took part in a 24-day hiking and canoeing course in the Yukon with the world-renowned National Outdoor Leadership School.

"At my age, 55 at the time, I was twice the age of everybody else on the course," he says, recalling the feeling of hiking mountain trails with a 65-pound pack and spotting caribou and grizzly bears in the wild.

"I love the quietness, the good feeling you get away from noise, the good feeling of seeing nature," he says. "You're watching a high definition screen, but it's strapped to your nose and it's all around you."

Bob Armstrong is a Winnipeg writer.

Healthy Living Awards 2010

In a bid to promote healthy lifestyles, the Reh-Fit Centre has established the Healthy Living Awards. Given out each year, the awards celebrate organizations and individuals who have made a contribution to promoting healthy living in the community, says Sue Boreskie, Chief Executive Officer of the Reh-Fit Centre. Since 1999, 173 Manitobans or Manitoba organizations have been recognized for promoting community health by encouraging active living. In this issue of Wave, the Winnipeg Health Region joins with the Reh-Fit Centre in saluting the two individual winners of the Healthy Living Award selected earlier this year.

For more information on how to nominate a person or an organization for an award, click here.

Wave

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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